Jealous ex guilty of murdering three generations in Chatham fire
A CAR salesman who killed his wife and young son when he started a fire at the family home in Chatham as they slept has today been convicted of their murder.
On September 10 last year Danai Muhammadi drove with his girlfriend Emma Smith from Coventry to friend and co-defendant Farhad Mahmud’s house in Maidstone.
Under the cover of darkness, Muhammadi and Mahmud then drove to Chatham, stopping on the way to fill a fuel canister and garden sprayer with petrol.
At around 2.15am the petrol was squirted through the letterbox of Muhammadi’s estranged family’s home in Chatham Hill.
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The petrol was ignited and within minutes flames had engulfed the hallway and stairs of the property cutting off the family’s escape route.
Muhammadi’s estranged wife Melissa, 20, and their 15-month-old son Noah died in the fire. His father-in-law Mark Crook, 48, died later that week in hospital from severe injuries suffered in the blaze.
Two other people in the house at the time – Melissa’s mother Amanda, 49, and her 21-year-old brother Bohdan - were able to escape to safety through upstairs windows suffering burns and injuries themselves.
Maidstone Crown Court heard during a six-week trial how after setting the fire, a call was made on Mahmud’s phone to Emma Smith who was at his Maidstone home.
Immediately afterwards a 999 call was made by Smith to report the blaze. She then called Muhammadi’s phone and he collected her and the pair drove back to Coventry.
The fire was quickly determined as being suspicious and an investigation was launched by the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate.
As officers travelled to Coventry to find Muhammadi and inform him of the death of his wife and son, it was becoming apparent from automatic number plate recognition technology that a car associated with him had been tracked travelling from Coventry into Kent and then into Chatham.
By the time officers arrived in Coventry, Muhammadi was a suspect and he was arrested at the second-hand car dealership where he worked. It was less than 12 hours after the fire.
A search of his flat revealed a piece of paper with a Maidstone postcode.
Officers were sent to the address in Fernhill Road, Maidstone which was co-defendant Mahmud’s flat. A search found the garden sprayer in the bath still with traces of petrol inside it. He was also arrested.
Smith was arrested two days after the fire after communications technology revealed that her phone had been used in the Kent area prior to the fire and further to this a second phone attributed to her was used to report the fire in Chatham from the Maidstone area.
Muhammadi, 24, of Brittania Street, Coventry, door supervisor Mahmud, 35, of Fernhill Road, Maidstone and unemployed Emma Smith, 21, of The Barley Lea, Coventry, each denied three counts of murder and two of attempted murder.
Today the jury returned guilty verdicts on Muhammadi and Mahmud for the murder of Mark, Melissa and Noah Crook. Emma Smith was found guilty of the manslaughter of all three.
Muhammadi and Mahmud were also found guilty of the attempted murder of Amanda and Bohdan Crook. Emma Smith was found not guilty of the attempted murder charges.
Detective Chief Inspector David Chewter, from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said: "This was one of the most tragic cases I have dealt with in 24 years of policing and my thoughts are with the Crook family who lost three generations of their close-knit family as a result of the fire which was deliberately set by someone they had welcomed into their family.
"Muhammadi was driven by jealously and from day one, has denied his involvement in the death of his wife Melissa, young son Noah and father-in-law Mark.
"It is satisfying however that the wealth of evidence against him and his co-defendants was so overwhelming. The use of data communication technology in the shape of ANPR, CCTV and mobile phone information was key to us being able to quickly arrest him for this terrible crime.
"That evidence has proven to be incontrovertible in court and it is only right that the jury have returned a guilty verdict here today and justice has been done for the Crook family who will be haunted by what happened that night for the rest of their lives."
Kent Fire and Rescue Service Director of Service Delivery Steve Griffiths said: "This was an extremely harrowing incident for our local crews who were at the scene within minutes of being called. Despite their best efforts, which should be commended considering the ferocity of the fire, they were unable to save three members of this family and we extend our deepest sympathies to their relatives and the local community.
"Our fire investigation team worked closely with their police colleagues and the ongoing development of this service is demonstrated by the overwhelming and conclusive evidence seen by the court, we hope it sends a clear message to others that arson can easily lead to tragedy and is punishable by a considerable jail term."
Speaking at court after the conviction, Amanda Crook said: "The verdict today is not a cause for celebration for us, the family, but we are relieved that we have at least received justice. The evil people convicted today are now deprived of their liberty, and justly so. However no sentence they received could bring back the loved ones they took from us.
"We thank everyone involved in giving us this justice - Detective Chief Inspector David Chewter and all his team for their dedication and professionalism. We also thank the fire brigade, the ambulance service, the prosecuting team and the jury.
"We thank the media for their understanding in reporting everything since September 10 and would now ask that we are left alone to continue to come to terms with our loss."